Stories of Flight from Maryland


Flee Panel 1

This document packet explores previously unknown stories of slaveowners, fugitives, and accomplices to show how slavery and flights to freedom shaped the lives of all Marylanders. The Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses emerged as a clandestine, organized system to assist runaway slaves in their escape from slavery. Abolitionists and allies sympathetic to the anti-slavery cause often aided fugitives on their flight to freedom. Thus, the Underground Railroad influenced many individuals: enslaved and free, and black and white. Runaway slaves looked to friends, family, and strangers for assistance. Simultaneously though, slaveowners and pro-slavery advocates worked to capture escapees for financial gain and to preserve the institution they knew.

Maryland's economy was dependent on slavery. Slaveholders in Maryland used slaves to cultivate wheat and tobacco, or to perform domestic work and skilled labor. Slaveowners saw their slaves as property, sources of revenue, status symbols, and important investments. They also viewed slaves as dangerous threats who needed to be controlled. Owners feared that escaped slaves would encourage others to rebel or runaway. When slaves escaped, slaveowners often ran advertisements in the local paper to alert the authorities and slaveowners occasionally punished the slaves left behind.

Fugitive slaves in Maryland often fled without knowing whom they could trust. Runaway slaves sometimes received help from relatives and friends, and they sought shelter in cities like Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Some escapes were timed with holidays or periods when absences were more likely to go unnoticed, and some slaves fled multiple times. They could be captured by slave catchers for large rewards, and the risk of escape was grave. Free and enslaved blacks, as well as sympathetic whites assisted runaway slaves by offering refuge - a place to stay, sustenance, money, travel advice, and legal assistance. Accomplices risked ostracism, imprisonment, and death. Fugitive slave laws required all citizens to report runaways to authorities. People who "enticed" slaves to escape or aided fugitives could receive years in prison or crippling fines.

All slaves in Maryland were freed by the state's Constitution of 1864 and a new chapter opened for African Americans. The fate of many fugitives and former slaves is unknown. Some fugitives settled in the North, while others returned to Maryland to live near family members or to find work. A few, like Harriet Tubman and sisters Emily and Mary Edmonson, remain well-known today. Some stories of fugitive slaves were published in narratives, which give a more intimate account of the experience of enslavement, the details of flight, and life after slavery.

U.S. History Content Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following U.S. History Content Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1864)

    Standard 1: United States territorial expansion between 1801-1864, and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans

    Standard 3: The extension, restriction, and reorganization of political democracy after 1800

    Standard 4: The sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the antebellum period

Era 5 - Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

    Standard 1: The causes of the Civil War

    Standard 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people

    Standard 3: How various reconstruction plans succeeded or failed

Primary Resources

1. Title: Twenty-eight fugitives escaping from the Eastern Shore of Maryland
Creator: William Still, 1872.
Description: A print of fugitives escaping from Maryland in William Still's book The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts...
Source: New York Public Library, Digital Gallery
Repository: New York Public Library, New York.

2. Title: "$50 Reward."
Description: Runaway Advertisement for Benjamin Duckett
Notes: Zachariah Berry owned Benjamin Duckett, a 25-year-old black man along with other slaves that labored on his plantation. As he developed his property, "Bellmont," Berry dealt with numerous flight attempts by his slaves; Benjamin Duckett escaped in September 1856. Shortly after, Berry placed an advertisement in a local paper, describing Duckett's appearance vividly.
Source: Planters Advocate, October 1, 1856.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

3. Title: Rixom Webb
Description: A tax list recorded in 1846 lists the property owned by an African American man, Rixom Webb; strikingly it includes one slave, a young girl.
Notes: Transcription available for download
Source: Caroline County Levy Court (Tax List), 1846.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

4. Title: "$5 Reward."
Description: Runaway advertisement for negro boy, Alfred.
Rixom Webb placed an advertisement in a local paper for a slave boy who had escaped from his farm on April 24, 1844. Webb offered a description and said there was a possibility the boy would be fleeing to Cambridge to his mother.
Source: Cambridge Chronicle, April 27, 1844.
Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

5. Title: "Sixteen Dollars Reward."
Description: Runaway advertisement for Charles and Patrick Mahoney.
John Ashton submitted an advertisement to the paper to run for 3 weeks in search of his runaway slaves, Charles and Patrick Mahoney. He described them as two mulatto fellows pretending to be set free.
Source: Maryland Gazette, January 8, 1798.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

6. Title: "Twelve Pounds Reward."
Description: Runaway advertisement for Simon, Billy, Jack, Lewis, Isaac, Paul, Matthew and Tom, very black negroes, Tom, Billy, Nick, and Fanny of a brown complexion.
John Ashton ran an advertisement for twelve slaves who escaped from his possession. He lists each slave's name individually, but also refers to them as the "Queens." Ashton offered a reward of twenty shillings for each slave.
Source: Maryland Gazette, May 7, 1795.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

7. Title: "Fifty Dollars Reward."
Description: Runaway advertisement for Ben, a mulatto boy about 18 years old.
Tilghman Hilliary ran an advertisement for his escaped slave, Ben. Hilliary highlights that their home was just six miles from Bladensburg, in Prince George's County and he states that Ben's countenance changes when spoken to.
Frederick Town Herald, July 18, 1812.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

8. Title: "$100 Dollars Reward."
Description: Runaway advertisement for Tilghman Hilleary's escaped slave, Ben Orme.
Notes: Hillerary placed an advertisement in a local paper for a slave that had escaped from his property. He describes "Ben" as a young mulatto, 5'6 or 5'7, with striped pantaloons. Hilleary believes Ben may have changed and that he generally goes by the full name Ben Orme, claiming to be the son of a white man named William.
Source: Daily National Intelligencer, October 28, 1815.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

9. Title: Cochrane Proclamation
Creator: Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane
Description: Broadside released on April 2, 1814 offering immediate emancipation to any person willing to take up arms and join the colonial marines.
Notes: The proclamation also included the families of any person who joined the colonial marines and settled in British colonies. Upwards of 700 slaves from Maryland took this opportunity to seek freedom, including a group of 21 slaves that fled from Annapolis.
Source: ADM/1/508/folio 579
Repository: National Archives, London, England.

10. Title: "Twenty Dollars Reward"
Description: Runaway advertisement placed in the newspaper for two indentured apprentices who escaped from their owner near Fell's Point, in Baltimore.
Notes: William Williams is searching for William Little, a 17-year-old white boy and Henry H. Smith, a 21-year-old bright mulatto. Both boys were indentured to him and he is afraid that Henry has enticed said William Little away. Williams describes their clothing and personalities.
Source: Daily National Intelligencer, September 20, 1832.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

11. Title: Petition to Free Ann Matthews
Creator: Citizens of Baltimore City
A petition written to Governor Thomas asking for the pardon of Ann Matthews. Those signing the petition ask for mercy despite the severe charge against Matthews because as they say she is "advanced in life," and imprisonment will be difficult for her physically. They also evoke emotion when mentioning Matthews' daughter.
Notes: Transcription available for download
Source: Secretary of State (Pardon Papers), 1837-1947, MSA S1031-6.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

12. Title: Petition Against Ann Matthews
Creator: Property holders and others of the city of Baltimore
The undersigned citizens recommend to the governor that Ann Matthews not be pardoned. They state that she was a terror to her neighbors and of bad character. They ask that the governor allow the law to take its proper course with respect to Matthews.
Notes: Transcription available for download
Source: Secretary of State (Pardon Papers), 1837-1947, MSA S1031-6.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

13. Title: Pardon Note Signed by Governor Philip Francis Thomas
Creator: Governor Thomas
Description: Pardon for Ann Matthews.
Source: Secretary of State (Pardon Papers), 1837-1947, MSA S1031-6.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

14. Title: Portrait of Governor Philip Francis Thomas
Notes: Thomas was Governor of Maryland from 1848-1851. A local Marylander, born in Easton, he attended Dickinson College and practiced law. He was a Democrat and active in local politics. He was often supportive of slavery, believing that the states should manage the institution individually.
Source: Special Collections (Comptrollers of the Treasury Photographic Collection), MSA SC5161-1-1.
Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

15. Title: "One Hundred Dollars Reward."
Runaway advertisement for Cinderella who escaped from George F. Worthington.
Notes: Edward H. Brown, Worthington's overseer submits an advertisement for a 22 or 24-year-old negro girl named Cinderella who ran away. Brown described her physical condition and gives detail about her husband Abram Brogdan, who lived in Baltimore.
Source: Baltimore Sun, December 23, 1848.
Repository: ProQuest Historical Newspaper: Baltimore Sun, The (1837-1988).

16. Title: "Pardon Record for Abraham Brogden."
Creator: Governor E. Louis Lowe
Description: Governor Lowe issues a pardon for Abraham Brogden, calling for his immediate release from imprisonment.
Notes: Governor Lowe pardoned Brogden on May 23, 1851. He had received a petition from several citizens for the pardon of Abraham Brogden, a black man convicted in Anne Arundel County of enticing a slave to run away. (That slave was his wife, Cinderella).
Secretary of State (Pardon Record), Abraham Brogden, May 23, 1851, folio 121, MSA S1108-2.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

17. Title: "A Female Conductor of the Underground Railroad."
Description: A brief article describing Harriet Tubman's appearance at a Woman's Rights Convention in Boston.
Notes: The note describes Tubman's travels South and her life as a conductor, bringing her parents and many others to freedom. They misspell her name as Tupman.
Source: Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, June 5, 1860.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

18. Title: Photograph of Robert Riley.
Description: Photograph of U.S. Colored Troop Veteran Robert Riley, around 1880.
Notes: Riley was born a slave in Queen Anne's County,  Maryland around April 1837; he belonged to a man named Valentine B. Clements. Upon his service in the 7th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment, Riley was manumitted. After the war, Riley worked as a farm laborer, living in Centreville and around Baltimore. He eventually received a pension from the government for his military service and was an active member of a local Grand Army of the Republic Post.
Source: Carolyn C. Williams Collection of Robert Riley Papers.
Repository: Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, MD.

Additional Media Resources

Flee! Online Exhibit available through the Maryland State Archives Legacy of Slavery Project

Documenting the American South: Primary Resources for the Study of Southern History, Literature, and Culture.

Geography of Slavery in Virginia

Glossary Terms Used in Runaway Advertisements

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad

Additional Instructional Resources

Runaway Slaves: From the Revolution to the New Republic. From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Daily Lives of Slaves - What Really Happened? From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiana Riot of 1851. From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Secondary Resources

Brugger, Robert J. Maryland: A Middle Temperament 1634-1980. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Fields, Barbara Jeanne. Slavery and Freedom on Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Franklin, John Hope and Loren Schweninger. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Maryland State Archives. A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland. Annapolis, MD, 2007.

Phillips, Christopher. Freedom's Port: The African American Community of Baltimore 1790-1860. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

Ricks, Mary Kay. Escape on the Pearl: The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.

Whitman, Stephen. The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

National Park Service, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom
Diane Miller, National Coordinator
601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, ME, 68102
Legacy of Slavery in Maryland Project, Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD, 21401

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Prince George's County, Caroline County, and Howard County. 

Other program partners include the Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress.

Research completed with funding from the National Park Service Network to Freedom grant program. 

The document packet was researched and developed by Allison Seyler based on the Flee! Traveling Exhibit created by the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland Research team and accessible on the website Legacy of Slavery in Maryland.


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